Market intelligence for international student recruitment from ICEF
1st Nov 2023

Irish government launches quality assurance scheme for ELT and higher education sectors

Short on time? Here are the highlights:
  • The Irish government has announced the launch of its long-awaited International Education Mark (IEM), which Irish English-language schools must apply for and receive to be approved to recruit international students
  • A separate IEM will also govern the international activities of Irish universities

The Irish government has announced that it is moving forward at long last with new regulations for the English-language training (ELT) and higher education sectors in the country. Chief among the quality assurance measures are the much-anticipated International Education Mark (IEM), which has been in the works for about six years. There will be a specific quality marker for the ELT sector as well as one for the higher education sector.

Further and Higher Education Minister Simon Harris announced the details of the quality assurance measures in Seoul last week while on a trade mission to South Korea that focused in part on encouraging linkages between Irish and Korean universities.

The plan includes:

  • The launch of the two types of IEM;
  • Six new Department of Higher and Further Education staff to be placed in target markets;
  • A new partnership between government and the private sector aimed at attracting hundreds of PhD students to Ireland.

Which institutions will receive the IEM?

To obtain the IEM, institutions must demonstrate that “they meet national standards to ensure a quality experience for international learners.” Those standards relate to the “recruitment and admission of international students and the provision of information and student welfare.” All institutions intending to recruit students from overseas will have to apply for the mark.

Minister Harris emphasised that the IEM will provide prospective international students with even more confidence to choose Ireland for their studies, saying that the mark will “enhance Ireland’s reputation as a trusted destination and an educational hub with excellent standards for international learners seeking a high-quality education experience.”

He also noted the importance of the mark for Ireland’s competitiveness:

“Growing international competition, particularly from countries which formerly were a source of students are now competing to attract international students to courses conducted in English. This growth in competition means it is essential to improve Ireland’s offering, not just in terms of the quality of the institution and its programmes, but also the student experience from the point of visa application …. Ireland needs to match the offering from like competitors.”

Ireland has grown ever-more popular as a destination for both university and ELT programmes but has had some issues related to quality controls. Close to two dozen ELT schools closed between 2014 and 2018 without notice, leaving international students stranded and unsure of whether they would receive refunds or be able to continue to keep their visa to remain in Ireland.

Industry reaction

Marketing English in Ireland head Lorcan O’Connor Lloyd – who, with delegations from eight Irish English-language schools joined the Korea trade mission with Minister Harris – welcomed the news of the IEM’s rollout and provided the following comment:

“The English Language Education (ELE) sector welcomes the next stage of progress for the International Education Mark. For many months MEI has been in consultation with Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI) on policy documents relating to corporate governance, quality assurance and the ELE code of conduct. MEI has also delivered a series of IEM-focused training sessions to help our members prepare for the implementation of IEM regulations. We are encouraged by the progress made to date and will continue to support our members during the application and inspection process. We look forward to the launch of a high-quality internationally recognised accreditation mark.”

Ireland as a destination

Both Irish universities and English-language schools are very popular with international students as we move forward into 2024.

The number of international students enrolled in higher education in Ireland grew again in 2022/23 to 35,140, representing growth of just under 11%. This represents a new record, surpassing the pre-COVID benchmark. American, Indian, and Chinese students are the most represented in the international student population at Irish universities. Lower tuition fees, vis a vis those in the UK, are a distinct competitive advantage for Irish universities recruiting overseas.

High rankings are also another strength: five Irish post-secondary institutions placed in the top 200 QS university rankings for 2023 and eight made it into the top 1000. Dublin City University recently received the honour of coming out tops in terms of “career development” in a student satisfaction survey among 126,000 students.

The ELT sector, meanwhile, recovered strongly from pandemic losses in 2022. Student weeks for adult learners exceeded pre-pandemic levels last year by nearly 10%, while weeks for junior students reached roughly 90% of pre-COVID volumes. Overall, Irish ELT centres delivered 6% more student weeks than they did in 2019 but had yet to recover pre-pandemic student numbers. Latin American students living in countries where no visa is required to study in Ireland are major contributors of recent growth in student weeks.

For additional background please see:

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